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Home > News > Report

US lobby fights Australia's plan to sell uranium to India

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | September 11, 2007 14:43 IST
Last Updated: September 11, 2007 14:45 IST


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The non-proliferation lobby in the United States has gone ballistic over Australia's readiness to sell uranium to India and has begun a concerted campaign to protest such a move.

Its plans include calling on the Australian public to oppose any such transfer by its government to New Delhi, which has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Two leading non-proliferation organisations - the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Arms Control Association - have spoken up against Australian Prime Minister John Howard's announcement that Canberra stands ready to provide India with uranium.

Some analysts believe the non-proliferation lobby fears that such a decision from Australia, a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, could help build a consensus among this 45-nation NSG to endorse the US-India civilian nuclear agreement. They believe it imperative for the US Congress to consummate the nuclear deal between Washington and New Delhi.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of ACA and Leonard Spector, deputy director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said official documents from the Australian Parliament show that the 1985 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty bans Australian uranium exports to countries like India that have not signed the NPT.

"This move flagrantly contradicts Australia's long standing international nuclear nonproliferation commitments and should be reconsidered and reversed," Kimball said.

He said the reported Australian decision to sell uranium to India, "which is not a member of the NPT, has not signed the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty], and has refused to halt its production of plutonium for weapons, would violate Australia's past political and treaty commitments to the principle of full-scope international safeguards as a condition for supply of nuclear technology and material."

"This decision severely tarnishes Australia's otherwise good reputation as a leader in support of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament by all states," charged Kimball.

Both Kimball and Spector said that under the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty, Australia has committed not to provide any "source or special fissionable material or equipment" to any non-nuclear weapon state unless subject to the safeguards required by the NPT.

They argued that India is considered a non-nuclear weapon state under the NPT, and while India has agreed to allow partial safeguards on eight additional nuclear reactors by 2014, it rejects the comprehensive safeguards on all of its nuclear facilities and materials that are referred to in Article III of the NPT.

Kimball said, "Simply put, Australia has an international treaty obligation not to transfer uranium to India,' and argued that "contrary to Australian government claims, safeguards on a few additional Indian reactors provide little or no nonproliferation benefits, because India has refused to place all of its reactors, plutonium separation, and uranium enrichment plants under international safeguards."

"The safeguards on a few additional facilities will do nothing to slow or stop the continued production of fissile material for nuclear weapons by India," he predicted.

Kimball said although Australia claims that international and bilateral arrangements with India may help prevent the direct use of Australian uranium in India weapons, "absent action - and not simply promises - by India to stop the production of nuclear bomb material, the sale of uranium by states such as Australia would indirectly assist India's nuclear bomb program because it would free up its more limited domestic uranium supply for the purpose of producing more nuclear material for bombs."

He said "this is contrary to the purpose and intent of the NPT," and warned that this would "undoubtedly lead Pakistan to expand, not slow down, its capacity to produce nuclear bomb material."

Kimball said the Australian public should ask its government to demonstrate beyond doubt that Australian uranium sales would not indirectly assist India's nuclear bomb program.

He recalled that "in 1992, Australia and other members of the NSG adopted guidelines restricting nuclear trade with states such as India, that do not accept comprehensive IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards," and also noted that in 1995, Australia and the other members of the NPT, "endorsed the same policy as part of the package of decisions that allowed for the indefinite extension of the NPT."

Spector said "the question of whether Australia can legally export uranium to India is no longer in doubt. It cannot."

He speculated that Howard's announcement that Australia was prepared to sell uranium to India, ending a long-standing embargo, was apparently in anticipation of the Bush administration's seeking of an exemption from the NSG for India to transfer nuclear fuel, reactors and other nuclear technology under the US-India civilian nuclear deal.

Spector said, "The real question is whether Australia, which is legally barred from nuclear trade with India according to statements of its own Foreign Affairs Department, will vote at the NSG to authorise others to do what it cannot."

Kimball told rediff India Abroad that "if Australia does declare that it will only sell uranium and approve an exemption for India if the Indian government makes a commitment to a legally-binding test ban - the CTBT or something else - then it would meet one of our desired conditions for reengagement by the international community in peaceful nuclear trade with India.

He said his group wanted India should join other states in halting the production of fissile material for weapons, either through a multilateral treaty or unilateral action. "If India took these two steps, it would, in my view, actually fit well within the nuclear non-proliferation mainstream and reactor and uranium sales to India could be safeguarded in a way that could prevent any meaningful direct or indirect assistance to the Indian nuclear weapons program."






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